I began this story in January of 2014. It is still unfinished, but, maybe someday…
”I told you, I love you, didn’t you hear me?” Gillian squinted hard, struggling to hear Sam’s voice on the phone. The noise of the carpenters working on the remodel going on behind her made hearing Sam’s words almost impossible, so she moved to the next room. The door clicked softly behind her, muffling the outside chaos slightly, at least enough to allow her to question that last comment.
“I’m sorry, Sam, I couldn’t hear what you said, the builders are here today,” Gillian found a small folding stool by the window, pushing the plastic cover off onto the floor as she sat down. “It sounded like you said…”
“I love you, Gillian.”
“Oh.” Stunned into silence, Gillian stared out the window of the 5th floor office. Late afternoon sunshine turned the sawdust hanging in the air to a fine golden fog. Tears sprang to her eyes briefly as she thought about what the man on the other end of the line had just said to her, knowing that she was about to destroy the one chance at happiness she’d ever had.
“Gillian?” Sam’s deep voice woke her out of her reverie. Shaking her strawberry blonde curls stirred up the golden motes of dust, causing a riot of light and movement in the air. Gillian ran a hand across her eyes, closing them briefly to catch her breath and drive back the tears.
Whispering, Gillian choked out, “I’m here, Sam.”
“Yeah, you are,” he sighed heavily, sarcasm tingeing his voice now, “And you always will be, won’t you. You there – me here. You remodel the world around you all the time, but you’ll always be the same old you, won’t you? Nothing really changes, does it?”
“Sam – ”
“Don’t, Gillian. It only makes it worse.”
And then the silence came, as he hung up, leaving her standing in the gilded light of the late afternoon. All noise and fury and the world went on around her, as she stood, immobile – and wishing she could dance in that golden river of light.
Every night, without fail, up…. down…. up…. down….
Never one whole night with a full 8 hours of sleep. Awake at least 3 times a night, if she even got any sleep at all. And it had been going on for months this way.
Ever since Sam’s last phone call. The one where he said….
“Dammit, Gillian! Stop it!” Rubbing her hands hard over her face, as though to scrub the thoughts off of it, Gillian sat upright in bed, spilling pillows to the floor. The light from her clock shone emerald on the snowy white comforter, an eerie, haunting light, that exactly matched her mood. She felt haunted by the words she and Sam had left hanging on the phone. Haunted by what had been left – unspoken.
That she still loved him, too. That she couldn’t figure out any way to turn back time. That she was stuck in a present that she’d made for herself, in punishment. That time was now her enemy. Every moment that ticked past, taking her further away from him, from them, and from anything that they might have had.
“But what good would it have done, really?” She whispered into the darkness of her room. “All I would have done is raked all those old feelings back over the coals, causing even more pain. Sam deserves better than that. Better than me.”
Maybe it was time to make peace. Or maybe she should… oh, but she couldn’t. It was too frightening to contemplate. Gillian’s thoughts veered sharply away from the direction she’d taken them in, negating themselves in fear. Too much to lose, too much to gain. And if she lost this time? She’d be done for good. Gillian had made her life by betting only on the sure things.
“Yeah, and look where that got you. All alone. Great job.”
Looking down at the clock next to the bed, Gillian saw that it was 3:04 AM, prime time for the maudlin and the lonely. This was the worst time of the night for nostalgia, she thought. Because there was no one awake to share the memories. At 3 o’clock you truly felt the solitude of the hour. Long past sunset, and a long time away from dawn, it was the hour of loneliness. Neither here nor there. Now or then. 3AM was truly a time out of time, a separate universe that didn’t belong anywhere.
Lifting the comforter, she laid it back on the other, unused, side of the bed, and swung her feet to the floor. Digging her toes into the plush rug laid next to it, she decided she might as well get up, since there wouldn’t be anymore sleep tonight. Sam was too closely on her mind now for sleep.
Just then, Gillian heard the phone in the other room ring.
“You need to come, he’s gotten worse.”
“Oh, god,” Gillian breathed, her worst nightmare, the 3AM phone call, never good news. “How bad?”
“You. Need. To. Come. Does that say it clearly enough for you, or do you want me to tell you the whole painful thing on the phone, at 3 in the morning, cause I can do that too.” The voice on the phone brittle and pointed. Stacy wasn’t going to cut Gillian one inch of slack. Not now, not about Sam, not about anything, ever.
Slumped in her seat, Gillian rested her head in one hand and curled the other around the phone. In the darkness, she could imagine the petite brunette on the other end, staring daggers back at her. No matter what had happened, or how they’d tried to win her over, Stacy had never liked Gillian, had fought against her and Sam being together. She’d always seemed to be lurking in the wings, though, just waiting for a chance to break them up. Nothing had changed. Not that Gillian could really blame her at this point. She’d made a mess of their past, and it didn’t seem like she was doing much better with the present.
Maybe it was time to change the future.
“I wouldn’t be calling you if he wasn’t out of his head, asking for you, you know that.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So, are you coming? Will you give him that, at least?”
“It’s about damn time, Mrs. Rosen. Your husband needs you.”
Gillian packed only the bare essentials. Toothbrush, hairbrush, clean underclothes and a change of shirt and jeans. Nothing to indicate whether she was going for one night, or maybe, if she was lucky….. more.
To dare to hope, was painful. But as she threw random objects in the overnight bag, she found her stomach flipping over in anticipation. Butterflies? Hell, this was whole flock of birds. With wings fluttering madly, and pecking at her insides, the thought of seeing him sent not only feelings of flight, but of pain, at the same time.
Gillian had waited for this, if she was honest with herself. She knew that she would never have had the courage to call out to him, beg him to listen, and to forgive. She’d never thought… that maybe he already had.
Rushing through her apartment, she turned on the small overhead light in the tiny kitchen, all she’d ever needed just for herself, since no one ever came here. This had been her sanctuary, her hidey-hole, away from the rest of the world. The place where she could huddle in her lost past, and wallow in the guilt she felt. Honestly, it was another form of self-torture, this tiny prison of an apartment. It was where she figured she belonged, alone, without even friends to keep her company. She’d been the life of the party for years, keeping her friends in stitches with her outrageous stories. But she always went home alone. This place kept the world at bay, outside her interior walls, where her pride and obstinacy lived.
God, they had both been so proud, so unwilling to bend, to be honest and vulnerable. But that was all about to change. Gillian was going to make sure this time she was honest. About everything.
Grabbing her purse, she slung the overnight bag over one shoulder and dragged her apartment door open, remembering to pull her keys out and stuff them into her pocket. Awful way to start her new life if she got locked out of the apartment and had to have the super let her back in, just for that.
Optimism was going to be her keyword for the next few days.
She’d be so full of sunshine and rainbows, people would think she’d been mauled by a unicorn. Until she got a moment alone with Sam.
Then, finally, they’d be able to talk. Really talk. And let the weight of all those years fall behind them. His accident, her betrayal and cowardice, their last fight, and her leaving, it would all be alright. As long as she held onto this small sliver of hope. And she could hang on, she had to.
Now, she just had to remember how to drive while blinded by foggy emotions and fluttering birds in her chest. All the way home. And back – to Sam.
Sunlight streamed in through the car’s window, warming the side of Gillian’s neck and shoulder. Flipping the shade over to that side didn’t do much to block it out of her eyes, so she reached into the console next to her and grabbed her favorite pair of sunglasses, slipping them on and relaxing into the drive.
It was going to be a long day.
Tuning the radio, she caught an easy-listening rock station, good enough for background noise, but not too irritating. And then, just as she was taking her hand off the buttons, that song came on. The one she always avoided at all costs. Because it was theirs.
It had been Sam’s choice, really. All summer long, she’d hear him either humming that tune, or whistling it. Even singing it to her once. Not well, but, heartfelt, anyway.
“Voice like cracked glass”, he’d always say to her, after attempting to sing. And she’d laugh, and pat his arm and tell him “No, not at all, I love your voice.”
Matter of fact, the first time she met him he was singing that song.
Coming off her first big job, that summer had been a promise she’d made to herself. To get away, truly away from everything. To get lost in the woods, and not see civilization all summer. She’d rented a cabin at the lake, as far from the city as she could get, and was unpacking her car, when she heard someone singing out behind her cabin. Singing, badly.
“Sunshine, on my shoulders…. makes me happ-eeeee…”
Ugh, she thought to herself. John Denver? REALLY?
Slamming the lid of her trunk in disgust, she stalked around the side of the building, and was confronted by the backside of a mountain – of logs. Detouring around them, she noticed also the “whack-whack” of an axe, and upon seeing the head of the axe lift high into the air, finally reached the other side and saw the hands attached – and the rest of the guy along with them.
“Hey! Just who the hell do you think you are, and what are you doing at my cabin?” Gillian folded her arms over her chest and fumed.
“Well, since I own the cabin, I’m guessing it’s my right to be here, and if you are who I think you are, then I’m your landlord, and I’m chopping wood for your fireplace. Mind backing up a tich, so I can finish without hitting you with this axe by accident?”
Crap. So much for getting off on the right foot.
The house still looked the same as Gillian remembered it – all soft colors and green, growing things. The yellow pastel exterior was warm in the afternoon sunlight, and the white trim seemed almost fresh, as though painted yesterday. She’d always loved the yellow, like the very center of a daisy, or the soft down of a baby chick, it had always been a soft, comforting color to Gillian, and it had always meant home. She never used this color, anywhere, anymore. It was only for this place.
As she pulled up the gravel drive, she noticed only a couple of things had changed. One, there was now a wheelchair ramp, leading up the side of the house, to a door near the back; and two, the porch on the front of the house was now enclosed, with a wide, sliding glass door leading inside. Otherwise, it was all just as she’d left it.
She knew, it had been Sam’s choice, not his sister’s, to leave it just as Gillian had wanted it. He’d never really cared about colors, curtains and construction. All he’d cared about were the plants outside. If it could be potted, planted, or weeded, he’d had his hands in it, right up to his elbows.
Gillian pulled her car up to a stop, right next to the old stairs, which were now met at the top by the screen door on the porch. Behind it, and glaring down at her, stood Stacy Rosen. Sam’s sister. Great.
“It’s about damn time you got here, Gillian. He’s been asking for you for 2 days. What took you so long?” Stacy pushed the screen door open and stomped down the steps, folding her arms over her chest. Sandy-blonde hair hung lifeless from her ponytail, strands of it escaping to blow into her face, and she reached up angrily to shove them behind her ear. “Not that I expected you to hurry home to your husband, I mean, it’s only been a few years, why not wait till he’s good and dead, and you can just collect on his benefits?”
“I’m not here to fight, Stacy. I’m here to see him. Maybe…” Gillian sighed and stepped out of the car, closing the door softly behind her. “I’m not here to fight, ok?”
Surprise registered on Stacy’s face, as though she had expected Gillian to snap back and stomp off. And once upon a time, that’s exactly what she would have done. Actually, she’d have probably slapped Stacy, back then, and they could have had a good old-fashioned knock down brawl.
Gillian got the feeling that Stacy had kind of been hoping for just that.
“Yeah, whatever,” Stacy flipped her pony tail over her shoulder as she spun on her heel and headed back toward the house. “Come in, then. Sam’s sleeping right now, but I’m sure if you don’t go right in, he’ll hear about it somehow, and it’ll end up being my fault for some reason.”
“Thanks, Stacy.” Gillian looked up at the house, Welcome Home, Gillian, she thought to herself, then she took a deep breath, and followed the blonde inside.